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The Power and Impact of Standardised Tests

Investigating the Washback of Language Exams in Greece

Lambrini Loumbourdi

Standardised tests and language certification exams have been a popular topic in the field of assessment for many years now. The washback effect of such tests, that is how and to which degree language tests influence teaching and learning, has been the focus of several research projects in various contexts with different results, but at the same time of significant importance. Investigating the impact and consequences of tests is a great step towards creating better and fairer tests. This book focuses on a research study of the washback effect of the FCE test (First Certificate in English), developed and administered by Cambridge English Language Assessment (formerly ESOL). The context of the study is Greece, where unique socioeconomic elements and characteristics have rendered language certification increasingly important and have significantly contributed to the quality and quantity of the washback effect produced.
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Chapter 1 Introduction


The area of testing is very extensive and offers several opportunities for research. The concept of washback is one of the most prominent, and was chosen as the focus of this book. The idea of washback, briefly explained, is how and to which degree tests influence teaching and learning. According to its quality it can be characterised as either positive, having a beneficial influence on teaching and learning, or negative, having detrimental effects. According to the quantity by which it is produced it is high, when the effects are very significant and are created by important exams, or low. That type of washback is by other researchers referred to as strong or weak: “If the test has a strong effect, then it will determine everything that happens in the classroom, and lead all teachers to teach in the same way toward the exams. On the other hand, if a test has a weak effect, then it will affect only a part of the classroom events, or only some teachers and students but not others” (Watanabe, 2004: 20). The investigation of such a phenomenon would give at the same time the opportunity to look into one of the most popular standardised exams. The object of this investigation will be the FCE test (First Certificate in English), one of the most frequently taken English exams in Greece, and the purpose of this research will be to explore the washback produced during and after the preparation and administration of the particular exams. Within...

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